I find writing to be an immensely rewarding investment of time. Whether it’s writing poems like my friend Ellen or plays like my friend Jack Canfora. Whether it’s journaling, writing short stories or full length novels.

I came across an excerpt that struck a chord. It’s by Nobel Prize Winner Mario Vargas Llosa. In his beautiful book, Letters to a Young Novelist, he writes:

“There are no novel-writing prodigies. All the greatest, most revered novelists were first apprentice writers whose budding talent required early application and conviction.”

It’s hard to imagine a Ngugi Wa Thiong’o, Chimamanda Adichie, Stephen King, J. K. Rowling, Bernadine Evaristo or Llosa himself, as an apprentice. They’ve created so much greatness that one would be forgiven to assume some people are just that good.

Early in my writing journey, probably at age 7 or 8, I had two fundamental flaws. One, there were times the writing spirit would engulf me. I’d write from start to finish. Keep in mind, these are short pieces. Probably a page or two. Then the next time I’d wait for that same spirit of inspiration. To my dismay, it didn’t descend on me. Frustration! I’d abandon the work till the next time I felt sufficiently inspired.

My second flaw was, once I was done writing, I handed it in. Confident of an excellent job done. Only for the results to come in and I had been penalized for grammatical faux pas!

As I have grown older, these fundamental flaws have taught me two things. One, in the words of Leonardo Da Vinci, “Art is never finished, only abandoned.”

Two, self-editing and proofreading are to good writing what a gym is to a bodybuilder. It is impossible to get any better while ignoring them.

What have you learned along your writing journey that has helped you become a better writer?


  1. Read widely.
    You’ll find that when you read various works you pick up on writing styles, on ways in which certain authors depict characters, places and events. It’s fascinating.

  2. The most important thing I have learned about writing is to get it out. If you don’t make a discipline of sitting down and writing every single day, preferably at a set time, and just writing whatever comes, the writing stops coming. This first discipline is the single most important part. You must write, at least an hour, every single day. The second is that whatever it is that you wrote will likely be abandoned as you craft and hone and rewrite. I find that the rewrite takes 10x roughly what the first write took. I am referring to “serious” writing, as in books, rather than what I do online for example.

  3. I so relate but I donโ€™t know if Iโ€™ll ever feel like Iโ€™m in a position to give advice. I write because I love it and feel I have something to say. I put it in a blog in the hopes that someone will read it because I read somewhere years ago that writing and not having anyone read it is like โ€˜wankingโ€™ (Aussie slang for sexual self-gratification) and is pointless when it is all said and done. Besides, I donโ€™t want to be accused of being a โ€˜wankerโ€™. Apologies if my bluntness offends. ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. Iโ€™m reluctant to give advice to any writer, because I think it differs for everyone. My own experience has yielded two general principles. One is to always be willing to read it over and hone it until itโ€™s pried from your hands. Also, itโ€™s important to try to write consistently, even when itโ€™s not feeling great. But if youโ€™ve hit a total wall, itโ€™s ok to do other things that day, You just have to be willing to go back the next day.

      1. Hey Jack ๐Ÿ˜ƒ

        This is excellent advice! Reread and write consistently. Timeless!

        It’s great to hear from you, buddy. Thank you for making time ๐Ÿ˜Š

  4. Iโ€™ve learnt to stay true to my own voice, because that is what makes my writing my own. Trying to copy someone else just ruins your work

    1. Hey Shelly ๐Ÿ˜ƒ

      I couldn’t agree more!

      Finding and continously improving that authentic voice is the way to go!

      Thank you for making time ๐Ÿ˜Š

    1. ๐Ÿ˜‚ ๐Ÿ˜‚ ๐Ÿ˜‚

      Grammarly to the rescue. It’s interesting the sort of perspective another eye can give you. We get so used to what we know that we pick things as habits fortuitously. Only when someone points out do we realise how prevalent it was!

      Thank you for making, Ang๐Ÿ˜Š

  5. Committing thoughts to paper in the old fashioned way using a pen or pencil and to a lesser extent the typewriter has an advantage over using computer keyboards. I confess not done much these days but in the beginning (decades ago) the process had a positive earthing effect, no doubt helped by the slowness of the actions physically transmitting the thought to paper. I look at notebooks filled with poetry and prose fragments from long ago and see how many times I would write the same phrase, sentence, or stanza, and how editing had evolved -and interestingly how the spirit of a piece could be suppressed by too much editing or slavishly caring for grammatical correctness. And as regards style -it’s better to write a ‘bad’ piece in your own emerging style, than to write a ‘good’ piece in a style you admire and proven by other authors.

    1. Hey Tony ๐Ÿ˜ƒ

      As you can imagine, I have never seen a type writer ๐Ÿ˜‚

      I have however read on the art of writing ideas and drafts longhand. The old-fashioned way. President Obama had admitted to doing that for his books. Tech has really changed stuff.

      I couldn’t agree more with you. Finding and reminding true to your unique style is the best way to stand out.

      Thank you for making time ๐Ÿ˜Š

  6. I have learned to self-edit because of email. At my workplace email is very important as I communicate with colleagues and clients, and over the years I have begun to realize that a tiny mistake in an email can make a HUGE difference in how the email is received. This applies to the content, which we always want to be correct, and the mood or tone of the email.
    So, I first began self-editing emails because of those reasons, and now in my blogging it is second nature to read and re-read for errors and for tone. I also try to have a purpose to my writing and to keep that purpose in the forefront of my mind as I compose.

    1. Isn’t it just interesting how life works for our good!

      Now, I am going to use my emails as practice for my work. Edit for grammatical correctness, tone and content.

      Thank you for making time ๐Ÿ˜Š

  7. That is SO Relatable. I revisited writing after a pretty long gap of around 10 years. I used to write short notes and stuff to myself. But I could never gather the courage to make my writing seen publicly for the fear of judgment.
    But once I did. I found that when I do it consistently I gradually don’t have to struggle that much to be in a flow state.
    So My major learning was Consistency. And then of course there is the issue rigourous pfoor reading.
    Reading others works gives us a different a perspective of viewing things.

  8. I am no writer in the professional sense, but I journal daily as a coping mechanism to my depression and anxiety.
    Every morning or night I write whatever is coming to my mind for 15-3O minutes. To get it out of my system.
    It’s like taking this object ( paper here ) and turning it into a listener or a thought sink.

    1. Hey Avery๐Ÿ˜ƒ

      That sounds so therapeutic!

      The beauty of pouring out our thoughts on a blank page is that the page doesn’t judge. It simply keeps us company as we vent. Such a loyal companion!

      Thank you for making time ๐Ÿ˜Š

  9. Learn by doing.

    Writing in a way was easy for me to learn because I just started doing it and kept doing it. I donโ€™t have a lot of โ€œbreakthroughโ€ moments or insights, because I just steadily, subtly got better the longer I wrote. This is another justification for writing things even if they will never see the light of day outside your own consciousnessโ€”it builds practice and skill. A concert pianist canโ€™t be a concert pianist if all they do is play concertsโ€”there are hours and hours of private practice, messiness, and learning that have to happen before theyโ€™re ready to share with the public. But does anyone call those hours of practice a waste of time? No, and neither should you call your time spent on writing experiments and abandoned works a waste. It all contributes to the betterment of your craft.

    1. Hey Gail๐Ÿ˜ƒ

      This is such powerful advice!

      Those private moments of practice are what build skill!

      Thank you for making time ๐Ÿ˜Š

  10. I also struggle with finding what I deem as “sufficient inspiration.” Many times I find myself waiting for the perfect moment, the perfect setup, or a span of 4 hours to write what’s been on my mind. In reality, there are many moments that would work. I have been working towards this goal of incorporating writing into my every day life where I’ll jot down things during my day and taking time to write even if I feel it’s not the ‘perfect’ moment. Also, thank you for the reference at the beginning… I still find it weird others may consider me as a ‘poet’ ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. Hey Ellen ๐Ÿ˜ƒ

      It’s so good to hear from ๐Ÿ˜Š

      You definitely are a POET!

      Incorporating writing into our daily lives sounds like a noble aspiration. I am going to pick that up.

      Thank you for making time ๐Ÿ˜Š

      1. It’s definitely weird to believe others consider me as a poet, but that’s the first step to turning my dreams and aspirations into reality ๐Ÿ™‚ Thank you for always being such a kind and generous supporter and friend to me, Billy ๐Ÿ™‚

  11. It is much harder to edit your own work than to edit someone else’s. If you don’t love your characters, or at least some of them, you can’t convey how they feel. If you can’t see the scene in living color, in front of you, how can your convey that feeling to your readers? You can’t make someone write a review if they didn’t like what you wrote. And paying for reviews is cheating to me, personally.

    1. I couldn’t agree more!

      I have found self-editing is like hearing your own voice recording. It’s YOU! It forces you to read YOU. Taking that step and making it a habit is one of the truest forms of faith in your own work.

  12. I learn that we need to know the type of audience we are writing for. Any topic can be made interesting and enjoyable if we can write them in the same style as the type of readers we choose. I also find that thought-provoking question as title tend to lure people into discussion, especially when it comes to something they have strong opinion about

    1. These are such valuable lessons!

      Knowing who to write for is just as important as knowing what to write.

      Thank you for making time ๐Ÿ˜Š

  13. Thanks for this post, on low days a writer suffers where everything and all efforts getting wasting, this is what I needed to read. Glad that many feel the same way.

    1. Hey Athika!

      We are in this together!

      There’s plenty of valuable lessons, tips and advice from from both readers and writers in the comment section. Grab a handful!

  14. I’ve learnt that breaks are important but consistency and wonder grow my hunger to write better. I used to be so worried about ‘finding my voice,’ but now I just write. Somehow, the words guide me. ๐Ÿ˜Š

  15. I learned that Iโ€™m not a poet. ๐Ÿ˜Š I tried a poetry class, thinking I would love it. The truth is, I realized a long time ago that I already have a style. Iโ€™ve been told I write like Iโ€™m just talking. Whenever I try to do otherwise, I come off false. So, Iโ€™ve learned that I am what I am and thatโ€™s all right; itโ€™s how I tell my truth.

  16. I’ll echo what has already been expressed here and maybe add some of my voice to it. Being open to ideas – from books, from art, from children and from elders alike – and pondering over them even if not always accepting them helps a lot. Like most people, I like it when someone likes what I write but what has worked for me is that I don’t look for approbation; I write primarily for myself, the joy it brings me free from the burden of expectation. Then again, that consideration gets modified when one is looking to be published but I still think it retains validity.

  17. One other thing that helps me is that with the exception of proofing mistakes and factual errors that I missed before hitting the ‘Publish’ button I don’t modify what I write even if a better way of expressing something comes to my mind. The writing then is a snapshot of that time and becomes something one can look at, compare and improve.

  18. Just. Keep. Starting.

    Sometimes a new project. Sometimes picking up where we’ve left off on an existing one. Sometimes planning. Sometimes diving in with no idea where we’re going.

    Just. Keep. Starting.

  19. I think the most important thing I’ve learned from my writing journey (which hasn’t actually been going for too long), is that it never comes out the way you imagine it. Most of the time better, a small percentage of the time worse, but never like you imagined. Writing the first draft of my novel I found myself taking the story in different directions off of mere momentary whims. The result wasn’t what I had planned, but it was most certainly me.

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